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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of Plaça de Tetuán in Barcelona

What is Plaça de Tetuán?

Plaça de Tetuán, or Plaza de Tetuán in Spanish, is a major square in Barcelona that’s named after the mid-19th-century Battle of Tétouan and features a 12-metre Art Nouveau monument to Catalan politician Dr Bartomeu Robert i Yarzábal.

Plaza de Tetuán

Gerardo nuñez, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Plaça de Tetuán History

The word Tetuán comes from the Berber tittawin, meaning ‘eyes’. Indeed, not only does Plaça de Tetuán resemble the shape of an eye from an overhead view; the square has also borne seeing witness to how various political forces have left behind commemorations in Barcelona’s urban space. The square, located at the centre of the Eixample district’s strict grid pattern, was initially named after progressive pedagogue and politician Hermenegildo Giner de Los Ríos, co-founder of the freethinking Institución Libre de Enseñanza (or ‘Free Institute of Education’) in 1876. Since its foundation, the institution has promoted high-quality secular education, declining to sacrifice quality of education in favour of religious dogma or moral and political orthodoxy.

Once General Franco’s troops seized control over Barcelona in 1939, the Regime prioritised consolidating its political authority. One of the first steps was to assert its supposed moral and political dominance in the nation's streets. To do so, fascist administrators tracked the biographies of the historical figures represented in its sculptures and street names, and removed any physical memory of the liberal Second Republic from public space, replacing them with others more congenial to the ideologies of the Regime. To this end, the government changed the name of the Hermenegildo Giner de Los Ríos Square, whose politically liberal stance on education did not fit within the authoritarian precepts advocated by Franco's supporters, to the Plaza de Tetuán. The name recalls the Spanish victory over Morocco in the 1860 Battle of Tétouan, which marked the end of the Hispanic-Moroccan War. Compared with liberal education, the war’s nationalist and colonial character better represented the Francoist Regime’s political and ideological motivations.

The statue at the square’s centre was also affected by the Francoist campaign to erase liberalism and Republicanism from urban memory. Today, the square is dominated by a 12-metre Art Nouveau monument to Doctor Robert (whose stone bust is being kissed by a woman representing Fame), which was completed in 1904 and sculpted by Josep Llimona i Bruguera. Doctor and politician Bartomeu Robert i Yarzábal was a Catalan nationalist who co-founded the Catalan liberal political party Lliga Regionalista and was briefly the Mayor of Barcelona.

During the Francoist dictatorship, ‘every Catalan political institution was suppressed, the Catalan language was banned and the use of symbolic elements of Catalan identity forbidden’. As a result, Doctor Robert’s statue was condemned to obscurity when it was removed from its original location, the Plaça de la Universitat.

Other statues of celebrated Catalan figures such as Rafael Casanova i Comes and Pau Claris i Casademunt suffered similar dislocations. The statue was kept inside a municipal warehouse for almost half a century. In 1985, however, following the transition to democracy, the city council took Doctor Robert's statue out of storage and placed it in the square's centre.

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